Freya was diagnosed with the debilitating gynecological condition, vulvodynia, aged 20, she explains how cannabis has helped. Women are often told that pelvic pain, pain during sex, or nonspecific vulvar/vaginal discomfort are all in their heads, or not a big deal — just part of being female. Why women’s accounts of their own pain fall on deaf ears is a question that’s thorny, complex, and often infuriating. Vulvodynia can be very uncomfortable, plus it gets in the way of intimacy with partners. CBD and CBD oil for Vulvodynia might be the solution you've been looking for.
“It’s still very taboo”: How medical cannabis helps relieve the pain of vulvodynia
Vulvodynia is persistent, unexplained pain in the vulva – the female genital area including the skin surrounding the opening of the vagina.
This condition can affect women of all ages and is often a long-term problem that’s very distressing to live with.
What are the symptoms?
The main symptom is persistent pain in and around the vulva and vagina. The vulva usually looks normal and the pain can arise in a variety of forms:
- burning, stinging, throbbing or sore genital area
- it can be triggered by touch, such as during sex or when inserting a tampon
- it can be constantly in the background
- it can get worse when sitting down
- it can be limited to part of the vulva, such as the opening of the vagina
- it can be more widespread – sometimes it can spread over the whole genital area and the anus.
Having persistent vulval pain can affect relationships, reduce sex drive, and cause low mood and depression. It can be emotionally extremely distressing and have profound effects upon the patient’s sex life. There is also a huge stigma around this type of condition with women being frequently embarrassed to talk about it or seek help.
What treatment options are available?
Vulvodynia is unlikely to get better on its own and some of the treatments are only available on prescription and may not have the desired effect long term.
Lifestyle changes may help reduce symptoms such as only wearing cotton underwear, using lubricants before attempting sex, cool packs to sooth the pain of the vulva and sitting on a donut shaped cushion.
A combination of treatments can often help relieve the symptoms and reduce its impact on your life.
Conventional painkillers, such as paracetamol, will not usually relieve the pain. Doctors may prescribe antidepressants such as amitriptyline and nortriptyline, which can have unpleasant side effects including drowsiness, weight gain and dry mouth.
Sometimes anti-epilepsy medicines such as gabapentin and pregabalin are prescribed but again these can cause horrible side effects including dizziness, drowsiness and weight gain. If you have pain in a specific area of your vulva, injections of local anaesthetic and steroids into a nearby nerve may provide temporary pain relief. Physiotherapy and counselling can also both be useful in a patient’s overall treatment plan.
But even with all of the above intervention, sometimes the condition continues to devastate the patient’s life.
Can medical cannabis help?
There is an increasing body of evidence which suggests that cannabis-based medicines can be helpful for certain women in the treatment of vulvodynia and other gynaecological pain-related conditions such as endometriosis, if patients feel that standard pain medicines are no longer working or providing relief.
Sophie Hayes, specialist practise nurse at Integro Clinics, says: “Cannabis medicines can be helpful in the management of vulvodynia, particularly in relaxing the muscles of the vagina during intercourse and if used before and after. They can also be helpful in relieving vulva pain as the THC is an effective neuropathic pain killer.”
The patient’s story
Freya is a dynamic and politically active woman, who has a complex range of interacting conditions including fibromyalgia and vulvodynia.
Here, she describes the physical and mental aspects of this condition, the stigma that still exists around seeking help, and the difficulties and prejudices with diagnosis.
Freya was diagnosed with vulvodynia aged 20.
At what age did vulvodynia first become an issue for you? How does it impact on your life and relationships?
I was diagnosed at 20 and at the time I was in a very violent relationship. In fact, it’s only within the last year that I was told by a specialist that this is often the trigger for a condition like mine.
Back then they didn’t know why I had it, just that I did. I was told to try a lidocaine lubricant which just numbs everything so removes the pleasure from sex – for me at least – and that was that.
Did you find medical professionals sympathetic and helpful?
No one has ever taken the time to try and help me from a medical standpoint. I did see a specialist last year who recommended dilators, but they just hurt, and I hated them. I know I should go back to trying them again, but I think the mental trauma has become so much now that I just don’t want to. Which of course is not great for my relationship. I’m stuck feeling awful and guilty and wanting it to change, but with no idea how to change it.
When you tried medical cannabis, can you describe how it was helpful for the pain you were experiencing? What conventional drugs have you tried and were there any unpleasant side effects?
“I tried cannabis for my back pain. I had been on a cocktail of Tramadol, diazepam and codeine which had left me with terrible IBS, an addiction, and just feeling dazed and confused a lot of the time. Nothing got rid of the pain either , they just helped you not care and to relax.
Cannabis medicines manage to help me relax when I am in pain, which in turn helps the pain reduce as you are less tense and worried. It means I can sit and chat to people without being too ‘stoned’ on something like tramadol and doesn’t cause any of the negative side effects like IBS.
When I have tried tinctures and topicals they have given me pain relief without any of the ‘stoned’ effects, so I can focus and work without issue. That’s probably the most important thing – to be able to focus and get my work done without making mistakes. It also helps with sleep. I get terrible nightmares and sleep paralysis when I am on Tramadol which I just never get with cannabis medicines.
Why do you think talking openly and publicly about women’s pain is so important?
Just knowing that you are not alone is so important. Women’s pain is still tied up with the old stereotype of ‘hysteria’ and women are often left to languish in pain without a diagnosis for years, which has a huge effect on your mental health, so you’re stuck in a catch-22 of being depressed because you are in pain and don’t know why, and then your depression is blamed as the cause of your pain.
There is also a fundamental lack of joined up thinking when it comes to gynaecological symptoms with all your other symptoms, so co-morbidities are missed. I don’t know if this is just because of the spectacular lack of sex specific training that doctors go through, with the male medical body being the default body, or down to some belief that the two cannot ever be related? Or more simply – the patriarchy.
I think we are also still shamed for talking openly about sex and our bodies as women. We don’t talk openly about periods, contraception, menopause, vulva’s. It’s still very taboo. Who sits around the table and says, ‘actually I rarely have sex as it feels like I’m being stabbed every time I do’? I remember seeing Vulvodynia represented on Sex Education on Netflix and just cheering – I had never seen that before.
I also remember each time I had to tell a new partner about this before having sex , each time I would be so scared they would think it was a sexually transmitted infection (STI) or something. I thought they would think badly of me for having this ‘thing’ that ‘normal’ women didn’t have. And I think that goes directly back to the slut-shaming we all faced in our teenage years for daring to have sex and enjoy our bodies.”
Integro Medical Clinics Ltd always recommend remaining under the care and treatment of your GP and specialist for your condition, while using cannabis-based medicines, and the Integro clinical team would always prefer to work in collaboration with them.
If this article has been of interest, you are invited to join a free webinar on Wednesday 12 May at 7pm, exploring the role of cannabis medicines in women’s health.
Expert speakers Dr Sally Ghazaleh, Sarah Higgins CNS, women’s health lead for Cannabis Patients Advocacy and Support Services (CPASS) and endometriosis patient’s Abby Hughes and Jessica* of The Endomonologues will candidly discuss this new field of medicine.
The event is hosted by Cannabis Health, Integro Medical Clinics and CPASS, sign up for free here
Freedom from Pain: Women, Healing, and Hope
Get a group of people with vulvas in a room and ask them to talk about pain — specifically genito-pelvic pain — and whether they’ve had any luck getting doctors to take it seriously, and it’s a good bet you’ll hear some pretty upsetting stories.
Women are often told that pelvic pain, pain during sex, or nonspecific vulvar/vaginal discomfort are all in their heads, or not a big deal — just part of being female. This has been going on for centuries, arguably ever since a lady had a conversation with a snake over an enticing-looking apple.
Women’s accounts of their own pain often fall on deaf ears, for reasons that are thorny, political, complex, and often infuriating.
However, times may finally be changing. Women demand answers. They’ve taken to social media to discuss their experiences, and learned that they’re not alone — and we’re all beginning to have a broader vocabulary for our pain, beyond the dismissive “female trouble” of bygone eras.
Talk To A Doc
If you have pelvic pain, vulvar/vaginal pain, and/or pain during sex, don’t dismiss it. It’s important to rule out serious, potentially life-threatening conditions such as cancer, infections or ectopic pregnancy, and you should see your doctor right away.
If they dismiss or belittle your experience, find another doctor — but if they’re sympathetic and still don’t find anything obviously wrong, there may be other reasons for your discomfort.
Diagnosis is often a tricky process, especially if you have to negotiate indifferent providers, and especially since our vocabulary for these issues is so limited. Pelvic pain conditions can be interrelated to one another. You may suffer from more than one, or your symptoms may not perfectly fit a recognized syndrome.
However, it’s possible to get a ballpark idea of what you might be dealing with – and just because “conventional wisdom” tells us to suck it up and get used to it, all hope is not lost.
Women are learning to manage their pain in new and innovative ways. They’re beginning to speak out about it… and giving the problem a name is often the most empowering place to start.
Vulvodynia is chronic vulvar pain that lasts three months or longer and doesn’t have an immediately identifiable cause. There are two main subtypes, localized and generalized vulvodynia.
The localized type results in pain in one spot, often the vestibule or vaginal opening (a condition formerly known as vulvar vestibulitis), and the generalized type is more diffused or may move around.
Vulvodynia pain can be either provoked (with flareups occurring after pressure or penetration) or spontaneous (when pain occurs for no obvious reason). It’s most often described as burning, stinging, aching, or general soreness, and it can be constant, or it can come and go.
It’s speculated that vulvodynia may result from multiple factors interacting together, possibly including inflammation (local or systemic), pelvic floor dysfunction, or even nerve damage.
Vaginismus is an involuntary contraction of the muscles of the pelvic floor. It can make penetration — via sexual intercourse, a tampon, or a gynecologist’s speculum — difficult or impossible.
Pain can range from mildly uncomfortable to severe, varying from woman to woman. Sometimes vaginismus crops up seemingly out of nowhere, even after pain-free years.
Anxiety is often a factor in vaginismus — which isn’t the same thing as a problem being “all in your head.” Anxiety causes very real physical symptoms that tend to cascade and build on one another, and symptoms can actually be worse if you’re anticipating the pain and tensing up.
But other factors may come into play, such as inadequate lubrication, menopause , side effects of medication and the aftermath of surgery.
Interstitial cystitis is a chronic condition causing pain centered on the bladder. Symptoms often mimic the pelvic discomfort and burning urination of a urinary tract infection, but won’t respond to the usual course of antibiotics.
Along with pain, IC can cause urinary urgency, a frequent need to urinate that may disrupt sleep, and, often, a great deal of emotional distress.
The causes of IC aren’t clear. It can be found alongside other pain conditions like fibromyalgia, and some speculate that it’s triggered by allergies or hidden autoimmune disorders.
Systemic inflammation may also be a factor. Regardless, it can result in serious disruptions to a woman’s quality of life, and there’s no known cure.
Strategic management of symptoms may offer some relief.
“The change” is another fact of women’s lives that weren’t adequately addressed until recently… and still isn’t, really. The hot flashes, mood disturbances, and decreased libido most commonly associated with menopause are, hardly coincidentally, the symptoms most likely to affect other people in a woman’s life. Women are so often told they have to live for others; but what about their own experiences?
Up to half of all women experience genital pain after menopause, usually associated with sex but not always. This is the result of hormonal changes, especially lowered estrogen, that can decrease lubrication, thin vaginal tissues and reduce elasticity. Dryness causes friction, friction causes pain, and pain can cause anxiety, which exacerbates the issue.
It’s recommended that women use a quality lubricant post-menopause, and, counterintuitively, have more sex – alone or with a partner. Arousal improves bloodflow and tissue elasticity.
Non-identified chronic pelvic pain conditions
Female genital anatomy is wonderfully complex, with vast networks of interconnected nerves and structures working together to keep our engines running. But this complexity means that any minor disruption may cause major effects.
Old or new injuries, lifestyle stress, seemingly unrelated illnesses, nerve damage, even a lousy office chair or inadequate exercise can result in genital or generalized pelvic discomfort.
And often, it isn’t even possible to pinpoint causes. Nothing seems “wrong”. but it hurts.
Pelvic Scar Tissue
Scar tissue can result from surgery, gynecological procedures, and birth injuries as well as from sexual trauma.
Scar tissue can restrict blood flow and tissue oxygenation and (just like chronic inflammation) scar tissue creates imbalances that lead to more scarring, more inflammation, and more pain.
A physician may ignore psychological trauma because there’s not yet a pill to prescribe for it, even though it may be a major factor in the sexual pain that many women experience.
The physical tension and deep-seated fear that can result from psychological trauma — whether it be the result of sexual violence, or the sexual shame and confusion imposed disproportionately on women, or both.
Considering the high rates of sexual assault in the US and around the world, it is safe to say that trauma should be another area that is addressed when working with pelvic pain. But the relationship between our life experiences and our physical bodies is often dismissed in mainstream medical discourse as “psychosomatic” when, in reality, this mind-body connection could prove to be a powerful avenue for healing.
Somatic therapies such as Somatic Experiencing and EMDR are proving to be beneficial for healing trauma. And there’s compelling evidence that CBD can support those experiencing PTSD (similar to the way it seems to benefit depression ).
We’ve also found that our CBD arousal oil can be a powerful ally in the quest to release old hurts and reawaken new pleasures. In this video , the formulator of Awaken Arousal Oil with CBD discusses sexual trauma with our Chief Education Officer, exploring the way that aroma can be a healing tool for rewiring our responses to triggering situations.
In addition to the above therapies, a sexological bodyworker is more likely to understand the connection between traumatizing experiences, dysregulation of the nervous system and tension and pain within the body .
Healing Solutions from Unexpected Quarters
At Foria, we’re working to advance our collective understanding of the power of cannabinoids, and w e plan to continue expanding our collective understanding of the role of cannabinoids in women’s health & healing. It’s been quite a journey so far.
We hear from so many women who have struggled with gynecological pain for years, and whose quest for relief has taken them down terribly frustrating paths.
We’re privileged and grateful to hear their stories, which – not too terribly long ago – might have gone entirely unspoken.
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Can You Use CBD for Vulvodynia?
Any woman with vulvodynia wants shot of this awful pain, as soon as possible. Vulvodynia can be incredibly uncomfortable, plus it gets in the way of intimacy with partners, which is frustrating and even depressing. There are various approaches to treating vulvodynia, but no one-size-fits-all treatment. However, CBD (and abbreviation of Cannabidiol), is one of the closest things to a cure-all we know of… but can you use CBD for vulvodynia? Absolutely.
Our ancestors have long been using cannabis to treat pelvic pain, but it is only recently being embraced in modern society. First, let’s take a look at what CBD is: CBD is just one of more than a hundred naturally occurring compounds found in hemp (or marijuana). Hemp is the term generally used to classify varieties of cannabis with 0.3% or less THC content (the compound that gets you stoned), although the difference between cannabis and hemp is more complex than just that.
Don’t worry about getting high while using CBD for vulvodynia; it’s easier to get CBD products with little to no THC content, since those are legal, whereas THC is often not. CBD oil products are made from high-CBD, low-THC hemp.
Why use CBD for vulvodynia?
There are a few reasons for using CBD to treat vulvodynia. Firstly, CBD is famous for its pain relieving qualities, and no area of the body is exempt from that. It is also known to reduce anxiety, which is an issue for many women with vulvodynia. They have negative associations with sexual intercourse because of the pain they feel during penetration.
The benefits don’t end there, either. CBD can relax muscles, which helps vulvodynia because when you anticipate sexual pain, your muscles are likely to contract. This can worsen the pain of vulvodynia, or lead to vaginismus. If you insert a CBD suppository or apply CBD products to the vulva, you may be surprised at just how effective the relaxation and pain relief is.
To summarize, CBD helps with the following vulvodynia symptoms:
- Tight muscles
The CBD can desensitize the nerves in the genitals, as well as reducing any inflammation present (which can be a side effect of vulvodynia in some women). CBD limits your body’s ability to feel pain signals, but also works on pain by targeting the same enzymes Ibuprofin targets, thus reducing prostaglandin production. Prostaglandins are hormone-like substances that promote pain, inflammation and fever.
Why else should you use CBD for vulvodynia? It’s an aphrodisiac!
Here’s another major USP for CBD. Cannabinoids actually work as an aphrodisiac for many women, and when applied directly to the vulva, can increase sexual pleasure. That’s because when applied to the skin, phytocannabinoids increase blood flow to the area, which is what happens when you get aroused naturally.
Whether you smoke a bit of cannabis or apply some oil topically, CBD oil or cream is a wonderful addition to your sex life. Note that if you smoke cannabis, you’re going to feel the effects of THC too. However, if you apply a CBD product to your skin, you are unlikely to experience any psychoactive effects.
Can You Use CBD for Vulvodynia? Yes… and Here’s Why it Works
Strains containing a lot of CBD are the best for inflammation reduction, and they won’t get you stoned. Some feel that the best strains for pain relief are those with both CBD and THC content. If you do want a product containing THC (as many with chronic pain do), even one with less than 6% THC content will still help to calm and relax you.
- Indica strains are believed to be physically sedating, perfect for relaxing with a movie or as a nightcap before bed.
- Sativas are said to provide invigorating, uplifting cerebral effects that pair well with physical activity, social gatherings, and creative projects.
- Hybrids are thought to fall somewhere in between, offering a balance of indica and sativa effects.
Vaginal Dilators paired with CBD is a great treatment option. Vuva Vaginal Dilators sets are used to regenerate vaginal capacity, expand the vaginal walls, add elasticity to the tissues, and to allow for comfortable sexual intercourse. VuVa Magnetic Dilators are smooth lightweight plastic, that come in a variety of graduated sizes. Using Dilators with CBD maximizes your pelvic floor physical therapy. To shop dilators click here.
You may find this article on CBD for pelvic pain useful if you would like more information on the topic. We hope that you will be able to reap the rewards of CBD for your vulvodynia… good luck, and don’t forget to check out our blog for plenty of other information on vulvodynia and similar conditions.